Actual Ethics - download pdf or read online

By James R. Otteson

A security of the 'classical liberal' political culture, utilized to modern day ethical and political matters.

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1; Sober and Wilson, Unto Others; E. O. Wilson, Consilience, esp. chap. 8; J. Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense, esp. chap. 2; and Wright, The Moral Animal, esp. chap. 7. I draw on all these works in my discussion. As did, for example, William Hamilton, in his 1964 papers “The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour I” and “The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour II,” both collected in The Narrow Roads of Gene Land. For sustained criticism of this enterprise, see Kitcher’s Vaulting Ambition. 20 Working Out the Position could determine behavior with anything like this much precision.

That is precisely my argument. The way to protect people from others’ bad decisions is precisely by making sure, as far as we can, that the consequences of A’s actions affect only A, that the consequences of B’s actions affect only B, and that, unless they mutually agreed otherwise, ne’er the twain shall meet. Thus we should strive to maintain the connection between decision (or freedom) and consequences (or responsibility) as much as possible. Not only is that the way to respect people’s personhood—both of the actors and of those affected by their actions—but it also allows to operate the natural incentives that give people the motivations necessary to develop their judgment properly, and hence, we can hope, to make fewer bad decisions in the future.

What I am more confident about is that human beings seem to have a nature, that the world seems to have a nature, and that if we want to figure out how human beings should behave given their ends, we will need to see what their and the world’s natures are. That means empirical investigation, and a lot of it. What indeed has empirical investigation disclosed? Is there anything we can say in general about an empirically grounded human ‘justice’? It turns out there is. Historical investigation converges on a concept of justice that is indeed nearly universal, centering on, as I suggested earlier, 23 The literature on Platonic and Aristotelian justice is vast.

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Actual Ethics by James R. Otteson


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